Bob Schwartz

Tag: marijuana

Marijuana Science: Reasonable Discussion Is Necessary—and Nearly Impossible

People like intoxicants. It’s in the Bible. Even Supreme Court justices such as Brett Kavanaugh like them—a lot: “I like beer! I like beer! I like beer!” People like them for a lot of reasons, including enjoyment and enlightenment. And yes, these include all the substances we may use regularly to change how we act and feel, such as coffee and tobacco.

Nothing is free of consequence, certainly not intoxicants. As individuals we take the good with the bad. The same goes for the society the individuals comprise and affect. Society sometimes like to step in to assert balance on the weight of good and bad.

With alcohol Prohibition, America gave the world the best living laboratory of this balancing, specifically how this balancing could go very wrong. By ascribing social ills to a behavior that few were willing to give up, America turned into a nation of scofflaws enabling and enriching criminals and, ironically, the use of alcohol actually increased.

But the failure of Prohibition as a social tool never meant that alcohol could not be a sinister force. It is an enabler of good times and is complicit in many tragedies. As a society we agree to take the good with the bad, and hope and encourage individuals to maintain their own balance, with the law as a backstop.

Prohibition is also an example of the extremism that has attached to other intoxicants, extremism that always pushes out reasonable discussion in favor absolutes, that is, absolute evils. One reaction to unreasonable extremism is extremism: if something you know is good is incorrectly labelled absolutely bad by others, obviously it is absolutely good.

There is no possibility that marijuana is absolutely good for everybody. There is no possibility that marijuana at certain potencies used in certain frequencies is good for everybody. Research into this topic is ramping up, as in this new study:

Findings

Between May 1, 2010, and April 1, 2015, we obtained data from 901 patients with first-episode psychosis across 11 sites and 1237 population controls from those same sites. Daily cannabis use was associated with increased odds of psychotic disorder compared with never users (adjusted odds ratio [OR] 3·2, 95% CI 2·2–4·1), increasing to nearly five-times increased odds for daily use of high-potency types of cannabis (4·8, 2·5–6·3). The PAFs calculated indicated that if high-potency cannabis were no longer available, 12·2% (95% CI 3·0–16·1) of cases of first-episode psychosis could be prevented across the 11 sites, rising to 30·3% (15·2–40·0) in London and 50·3% (27·4–66·0) in Amsterdam. The adjusted incident rates for psychotic disorder were positively correlated with the prevalence in controls across the 11 sites of use of high-potency cannabis (r = 0·7; p=0·0286) and daily use (r = 0·8; p=0·0109).

Interpretation

Differences in frequency of daily cannabis use and in use of high-potency cannabis contributed to the striking variation in the incidence of psychotic disorder across the 11 studied sites. Given the increasing availability of high-potency cannabis, this has important implications for public health.

Just mentioning this will seem to some a betrayal of the movement to end marijuana prohibition, a truly benighted and thoughtlessly reflexive policy. It is not a betrayal. It is merely a plea for something we have rarely had before: an open and informed public conversation about a widely used and impossible to stop intoxicant.

If we’ve learned nothing else in recent days, it’s that nothing is more harmful than hiding the truth, nothing more valuable than putting all the evidence on the table. If you believe in climate science, then you have to believe in marijuana science. Only then can we try for a reasonable discussion, hard as that may be.

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Still Waiting for 21st Century American Politics

Pelosi McConnell Reid Boehner

We are still waiting for the emergence of 21st century politics in America.

The first part of this may seem simplistic and overgeneralized. The second part may seem silly. But this is about politics, so what can you expect?

1

Many Republicans seem to be stuck at some point in the 19th century—not just Robber Barons and the Gilded Age, but certainly that. Many Democrats seem to be stuck with some version of 20th century progressivism—not a bad thing, by any means, but constructed in a different world under different circumstances.

2

Forget the bourbon and beer political summits. The President, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, John Boehner, and Nancy Pelosi should take advantage of D.C.’s new legalized marijuana and share the peace pipe. The scripts would fall away, they would be channeling some different higher power. (Question: Which of these, besides Obama, has actually smoked pot before? Answer: All of them, even if it was just a puff, even if it was just a dare, even if they didn’t inhale.)

Music and food might be issues. Not knowing their individual tastes, and if the point is to get to a better and more creative, communal, and enlightening space, Bob Marley could do the trick. Shoulders swaying, spirits lifting, to the heavenly prayer of One Love.

Food? Whatever’s in the fridge.

3

As I said, simplistic, overgeneralized, and silly. But if politics keeps trying to recreate some ideal of a bygone era, country, or world, two centuries ago, one century ago, fifty years ago, it won’t work. Yes, of course there are timeless values that deserve our allegiance. But these are always set in temporal realities. Being current means more than just being “relevant” or using the latest technologies to drive your message home or appealing to ascendant populations. It means that however much you love the way it was, just inhale, exhale, and breathe the air of 2014, 2016, and beyond. Because, politicians, it’s not your parents’ air—it’s not even yours.

Teach-in and Dope in the Senate

Teach-in
Yesterday some Senators, mostly Democrats, held an all-night “talkathon” on the Senate floor about climate change. It wasn’t any kind of filibuster, because there wasn’t any particular piece of legislation involved.

Back in the 1960s, this might have been called a teach-in, which was just this sort of session during which change-minded people would learn about the radical issues of the day. Except those people were more likely to be professors and students (or “outside agitators”), and it was more likely to take place in a college administration building than the U.S. Senate.

Two occasional hallmarks of extended teach-ins were sex and drugs. We don’t dare speculate whether any U.S. Senators were having sex during this “talkathon,” but we might just wonder if anybody snuck out to the cloakroom for a quick hit.

In the delightful and trenchant Amazon political comedy Alpha House, one of the four Republican U.S. Senators living in the eponymous D.C. house is seen relieving the tension of running for reelection by bonging it in the bathroom. (The much more serious and dangerous Netflix political series House of Cards also shows the ambitious Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, sharing joints with his Lady Macbeth of a wife. Sex of all varieties too.)

Back to the climate change teach-in. Even if no substances were involved in the event, what are the odds that any of those participants occasionally indulge, or that any of the rest of the Senate does? As a variant on the old speaker’s trick of imagining your audience without clothes, maybe it would be easier to watch the U.S. Senate if we as citizens just imagined our favorite or least favorite Senators sitting in those iconic smoke-filled rooms passing the pipe. Dope in the Senate. That would explain so much.

Annals of Journalism: The Best Lead Paragraph Ever (Hint: It Involves Miley Cyrus)

Miley Cyrus Joint Dwarf

The Associated Press has issued the following lead paragraph for a story about Miley Cyrus’ most recent antics. It is the best lead paragraph ever.

AMSTERDAM (AP) — In an unabashed — and likely successful — bid for attention, singer Miley Cyrus smoked a joint on stage and twerked with a dwarf during the MTV Europe Music Awards.

Journalism students and logicians, please don’t focus on the joint smoking and the dwarf twerking, and for God’s sake, avert your eyes from the videos and photos (okay, you peeked; it’s irresistible, isn’t it?).

Instead, pay attention to this phrase: “unabashed — and likely successful — bid for attention.” What makes that phrase so delightful, the cherry on the Miley Cyrus-joint-dwarf news sundae, is that one of the largest news organizations in the world is covering the story, moving the success of her bid for attention from “likely” to certain and actual. As sure as the sun rises, Miley Cyrus will do something outrageous (the dwarf is an interesting touch, though it’s hard to say whether it’s trite or hip old school), and even the most respectable media outlets will cover it. So Associated Press, you just made your journalistic prediction come true. Oh the humanity! What would H.L. Mencken say?

 

The Marijuana Dilemma: It’s About Age

Marijuana
This was going to be a note about the Gallup poll showing that 58% of Americans think that the use of marijuana should be legal, and that 38% have tried it. It would include arguments about how pot stands in relation to other legal intoxicants—alcohol, tobacco, firearms (sorry, that’s the federal law enforcement agency)—and about how our justice system is distorted and how lives are ruined by reflexive, thoughtless, moralistic public policy.

But no. This is about a simple solution. It won’t make everybody happy, particularly those hypocritical it’s-all-bad-for-you-and-society Puritans who apparently missed the Sunday School class where Jesus mentioned getting the log out of your own eye before criticizing someone else’s splinter. But this might work.

Add marijuana to the list of acceptable American intoxicants. Then take the three biggies—alcohol, tobacco and marijuana—and make their distribution to children, particularly younger children, an even bigger deal than it is, so that the jail cells currently filled with marijuana-guilty adults could then be filled by real bad guys. Draconian punishment. Because while adult use of these intoxicants may be equivocal, childhood use of them is not.

We did not need American alcohol prohibition to learn that nothing will stop people using intoxicants. (Another hint: sex, at least if you’re doing it right, is also an intoxicant, the world’s most popular and, yes, one that the Puritans have also tried to circumscribe.) In another missed Sunday School lesson, Jesus did not smash the jars at the wedding at Cana, as he did the moneylender tables at the Temple; he actually made more wine for the celebrants. The poor we have with us always; so too the wine drinkers.

It is widely agreed that none of the three intoxicants are perfect: all of them are abused, all of them have real potential for ruining life and health. (America’s other big intoxicant, coffee, is excepted from this discussion, in part because any regulation of coffee would start a national revolt that really would prompt a new party, the Coffee Party, and in part because it is coffee that makes posts like this possible.) But as much as adolescents want to indulge, and as much as they already find a way to do it, if there’s a beneficial bargain to be made, this may be it. Let the grownups smoke/drink/smoke, let them explain to their kids why it isn’t a good idea for the younger set.

If you are currently a pre-teen or teenager yourself, or you once were, and you indulge in weed or once did, this may seem silly, arbitrary and unworkable. Here’s the news: all social policy is ultimately unworkable, or at least challenging and perplexing. The truth is that marijuana abuse by adolescents, just like alcohol and tobacco abuse by them, really is a bad thing, and really can cause irreversible damage. Adults should be free to get blissed out or ruin their lives (with minimal harm to others); kids shouldn’t be. If we are going to have some sort of marijuana policy, it ought to be a lot more sensible than the one we have now, even if the solution isn’t perfect.
10:39 AM 10/23/2013